SDG16+ Champions of Change

The footballer using sport to advance peace


Champions of Change is an initiative started by the Pathfinders to highlight advocates who have made an impact in their communities and have helped to create peaceful, just and inclusive societies (SDG16+). It provides an opportunity to feature individuals, businesses, and organizations doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. As part of the Movement to Halve Violence by 2030, hear from Champions who have made building peaceful societies their cause and mission in life, and learn what you can do to join them!

Kashif Siddiqi is a British South Asian Footballer and Young Philanthropist. Currently signed by Oxford United FC in the UK and loaned to Real Kashmir FC. In 2011, he established the Kashif Siddiqi Foundation and in 2013, co-founded the Football for Peace movement alongside FIFA’s & Chilean legend–Elías Figueroa, supported by the late Kofi Annan at the United Nations, New York office. His journey in sport is one of many accomplishments advocating to raise awareness and resources toward the most pressing issues facing both people and the planet through Football Diplomacy. Since making a debut on the international circuit and playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Qualifiers for Pakistan, whilst actively creating a global youth sports movement, Kashif has become known to many as the world’s first football diplomat.

We spoke with Kashif Siddiqi to learn more about his work and what drives him:

What ignited your pursuit for safe and peaceful societies?

My mother has had a significant impact on my life, serving as my role model and inspiration throughout my work and life. I watched her overcome the hardship of having her education, freedom, and childhood taken away from her due to inequality and civil war. My mother had to make incredible sacrifices for me to achieve the very best from life, and her sacrifices are the reason why I am here today. I was empowered by her endless bravery, resilience, fearlessness, and belief in me helped me to achieve my dreams and break down the barriers that stood in my path. I aim to reduce inequality and empower her, all women, and others facing similar hardships and injustice to live a life free of violence and full of freedom.

The spirit of Football for Peace came from the founder Elías Figueroa who grew up and played in South America. Elías Figueroa’s determination and work were a real inspiration for me as he too came from the footballing world. Football provides a powerful platform, through which Figueroa was able to mobilize players and his network to support his mission to tackle poverty in Chile. After following him closely I was inspired to continue his legacy and expand his vision to the rest of the world. I have worked extensively to amplify our reach and impact to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing humanity — poverty, social injustice, inequality, and climate change.

To achieve a peaceful, just, and inclusive world, what does success look like to you? And what are the key factors in achieving this vision?

Peace is to live in harmony, without fear to be who you are. A world where everyone has the right to be respected regardless of their ethnic origin, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, and any form of distinction. Peace is when you feel at peace with yourself when you are content to be the person you are for people and our planet. Ultimately, peace is bringing balance to the current imbalances that perpetuate poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, injustice. Our commitment to peace will help make the world a better place.

The key is to tackle the root problems and causes of systemic challenges. With this in mind, we have implemented five key pillars that serve as the foundation of our work: Poverty, Social justice, Equality, Climate, and Water. Our approach to building peaceful societies is through advocating understanding, peacebuilding approaches, dialogue, impact-based initiatives, partnerships, [working towards] common goals, and through selfless action that supports all people. Most importantly, we value the ability of each person to use their influence and resources to give voice and support to those that are voiceless, alone, and without means. For me, peace is the goal and football is my tool. I encourage everyone I meet to find what makes them happy and feel at peace, and to then inspire others to do the same. Resilience is key when you have a vision, and no matter what challenges you face or obstacles come in your way, perseverance and determination are all attributes of resilience. They will see you through anything.

How does your work significantly reduce and prevent violence?

The goal of our work is to help the future leaders of our societies––the youth––by giving them necessary life skills and resources. [We] use football and the footballing world as engagement tool to better understand the world and the issues we are facing. We then train our youth to understand and adopt sustainable practices, which they [in turn] share with their communities and [encourage them to] continue doing work that serves people and the planet. We use the global influence of football to bring education and awareness to issues that are interconnected both locally and globally. In doing so, we support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

How has COVID-19 impacted your work? Are there any lessons learned from the pandemic that you hope to apply in future work?

The coronavirus (COVID-9) pandemic is creating the worst humanitarian and economic crisis in a generation, threatening the lives, livelihoods, and learning of people around the world. In the face of these challenges we need to establish a whole-of-society response and a holistic approach that utilizes strong and multi-layered partnerships that collaborate at global, national, and local levels. Government leadership is crucial but private sector companies and civil society organizations also have a vital role in working together to respond to immediate challenges, but also developing longer term actions for recovery and resilience building.

Due to the nature of our activities, the team had to develop a digital approach and program to ensure that we can continue to engage and develop youth within their communities in a safe and effective manner. I believe the pandemic has taught us more than ever the importance of our everyday actions and how they impact others and the planet. We have seen a reduction in pollution and harmful effects on the environment as we are walking and cycling more; we have spent more time with our loved ones and supporting those in need in this pandemic; we have come up with creative and innovative ways to remain connected and continue the work we are trying to achieve.

What advice do you have for those seeking to make a difference for a more peaceful world?

Peace matters now more than ever. Football can create diplomacy, dialogue, and participation, which are all essential key factors that we need to implement quickly and effectively to support the SDGs and peacebuilding. While sometimes engagement at all levels of society is tough, we have untapped powerful tools without our reach, such as the power of football and other sports that can inspire a global peace movement. In my experience, the football industry can play a tremendous role in serving beyond the pitch around the world. We just need to be open, creative, and great listeners. Only then we will see change. I call on all leaders, sectors, and people to engage, discuss, and harness the power of ‘Football Diplomacy’.